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Winter shelters for the homeless: Don’t cut corners – editorials

For the last few days, the northwestern part of India has been in the grip of a cold wave or severe cold wave conditions. This situation is likely to continue in the National Capital Region for the next three days. With the mercury dipping, the homeless in Delhi have been using free-of-cost night shelters set up by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB), which, as of December 30, has shelter homes (RCC building, porta cabins, tents and temporary buildings) at 281 locations for 8,299 people. According to the DUSIB, on Tuesday night, 6,509 people stayed at these shelter homes.

However, just setting up shelter homes is not enough. According to a report in ThePrint, a news portal, facilities at many of the shelters —- bedding, toilets and water —- are not adequate. Thanks to Covid-19 and social distancing norms, these DUSIB shelters are now forced to admit a fewer number of people. A study by Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN), a non-profit, also found many shelters were not functional. There is also a discrepancy in the numbers of homeless people. According to HLRN, the number of homeless in Delhi at any given point is around 150,000-200,000. DUSIB claims that its 2014 survey showed 16,000-17,000. The variance in numbers suggests that there is an urgent need to assess the correct number and then review the arrangements made for them.

The problem of homeless people and shelters is symptomatic of a larger problem: The lack of adequate and safe housing. It is imperative that people have access to housing (including social rental housing and hostels) with adequate facilities (water, electricity, sanitation) and also access to affordable housing finance, including rental and ownership. The Centre’s aim to provide housing for all by 2022 is a step in the right direction because for every citizen, secure housing means income, security and a future.

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